Flailing Wilex finds a lifeline as Roche steps in with an ADC deal

Germany's Wilex has long been on the way out of biotech, but a new collaboration with Roche ($RHHBY) provides the company with some cash up front and a shot at down-the-line royalties.

Under the deal, Roche has agreed to pay as much as €52 million ($65.8 million) for the exclusive rights to an undisclosed tumor target. Roche also extended its relationship with Heidelberg Pharma, Wilex's CRO subsidiary that out-licenses the biotech's proprietary antibody-drug conjugate technology.

Wilex didn't say how much of the sum comes in the form of up-front cash, but, for a company that has spent the past year struggling to keep the doors open, any income is a positive.

The Munich company's problems began in 2012, when Rencarex, a renal cell carcinoma treatment, failed a Phase III trial. After a year of "intensive efforts" to find investors, Wilex let go of 80% of its staff in January and unveiled plans to gradually exit all clinical development, transitioning into a service provider.

So far, the company has signed over the Chinese rights to the Phase II pancreatic and breast cancer treatment Mesupron in a €7 million ($9.6 million) deal with Link Health, trading rest-of-the-world ownership of the drug to Israel's RedHill Biopharma for $1 million up front and future royalties. And, in May, Wilex handed back 5 once-promising cancer treatments to ex-partner UCB in exchange for cancellation fees and some debt forgiveness.

Wilex co-founder and CEO Olaf Wilhelm stepped down in March after about 17 years with the company, replaced by CFO Jan Schmidt-Brand. The company, a Fierce 15 honoree back in 2005, was originally launched with the help of German billionaire Dietmar Hopp.

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